Those who are familiar with the terms maximalists and minimalists know that the issue in question is the historical reliability of the Bible. Matthew Kalman has written an excellent article that was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education in which he discusses the controversy that has arisen because of Yosef Garfinkel’s discovery at Khirbet Qeiyafa.
At issue is whether David and Solomon ever existed and whether there is any historical foundation for the Bible’s statement that they ruled over a united monarchy in Jerusalem.
Kalman’s article should be read by any person who is interested in archaeology or the historicity of the Biblical narrative. In addition, anyone who has heard or read about the Elah Valley, Yosef Garfinkel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Israel Finkelstein, and Simcha Jacobovici and his many documentaries should read this article.
Let me give three brief quotations from the article:
The Maximalist View:
For the past 20 years, archaeologists have been locked in a battle over the very existence of David and his son Solomon, the extent of their influence, and when they reigned, if at all. Though the events under discussion occurred some 3,000 years ago, the debate has stirred strong emotions fueled by modern-day politics, academic rivalry, and a very 21st-century recruitment of modern media techniques that have divided the dry and dusty world of archaeological research into warring digital camps.
The David debate first spiked in the 1990s, when Finkelstein challenged the traditional idea of “a great United Monarchy of Israel, established in the course of the military exploits of King David and stabilized in the days of his son Solomon, who ruled over a glamorous, rich, and prosperous state.”
The Minimalist View:
Finkelstein became the poster child for an opposing camp of Minimalists, concentrated at Tel Aviv University. Advocates of the “Low Chronology,” they say that David and Solomon were mythical figures who perhaps ruled a small nomadic tribe confined to the Jerusalem-Hebron area. They date the finds at Megiddo to the ninth century BC, say they have no connection to Solomon, and argue that the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judea emerged as political powers at least a century after David was supposed to have lived.
Garfinkel’s latest finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa may win the argument—unless the rival camp can provide an alternative explanation for the newly unearthed cultic objects. The 10th-century date has been confirmed by carbon-14 tests. He says the absence of pig bones, the lack of human or animal forms in the religious vessels, and the Hebraic inscription set Khirbet Qeiyafa apart from nearby Canaanite or Philistine sites of the same period.
“Here we are in the Elah Valley. According to the radiocarbon dating we are in the time of David, and we have two gates, so we match very nicely the biblical description of Shaarayim,” says Garfinkel. “The Minimalists can’t bear this because it destroys the idea that the Bible has no historical memories from the 10th century. But this site shows you that some historical memories are embedded in the biblical tradition.”
If you want to know more about the minimalist/maximalist controversy, read the article here.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary